From nba.com news services:
The Milwaukee Bucks could have their star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo back in the lineup for Game 1 of The Finals (9 ET, ABC) after he was listed as questionable today.
The NBA’s latest injury report — released at 1:30 p.m. ET — had Antetokounmpo listed as questionable, an upgrade from his doubtful status Monday night. He has been out with a hyperextended left knee injury that he suffered in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Malika Andrews report the Bucks have put in around-the-clock treatment on Antetokounmpo’s knee and hope he will be a game-time decision against the Suns.
In their probable starting lineup for Game 1 of The Finals, the Bucks had Bobby Portis slotted into Antetokounmpo’s forward spot. Portis started the last two playoff games for Milwaukee, averaging 17.0 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.5 apg and 1.5 spg.
The Bucks faced a quick turnaround before Game 1 of The Finals in Phoenix on Tuesday night. It was not known if that left Antetokounmpo sufficient time to recover from his injury that prevented him from playing in the final two games of the East finals against the Atlanta Hawks.
The NBA announced earlier on Monday that Antetokounmpo was excused from media availability because of his uncertain status for Game 1 of The Finals.
“We’ll update it when appropriate,” said Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer, who had described Antetokounmpo’s injury as a “day-to-day” after the Bucks eliminated Atlanta on Saturday. “The conversations between he and myself, it’s kind of private and we’ll see where he is each day.”
Budenholzer said he was impressed with the resiliency the Bucks showed in winning back-to-back games without Antetokounmpo, the former two-time Kia MVP.
Khris Middleton, who stands with Antetokounmpo as the veteran leaders on the team, scored Milwaukee’s first 16 points of the second half and led the Bucks with 32. Jrue Holiday added 27 points, nine assists, nine rebounds and four steals.
Antetokounmpo was the center of the Bucks’ efforts to build a championship contender. Not having him on the floor took a little something out of the celebration.
“There’s a bittersweetness to him not being able to play these last two games,” Budenholzer said.
The Bucks listed Antetokoumpo as doubtful before announcing he would not play. For the second consecutive game, Portis started in the forward’s spot.
“I definitely wish he was out there with us, but he’s still here with us,” Middleton said. “On the bench, talking to us during the game, he’s still a part of it.”
The Bucks were in the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season. They fell short of the NBA Finals the last two seasons despite posting the NBA’s best regular-season record both times.
“Just like any team in the league, when this group hasn’t been able to advance, hasn’t been able to continue, it’s hurt, it’s been hard,” Budenholzer said.
The Bucks won playoff series against Miami, Brooklyn and Atlanta to end the franchise’s long NBA Finals drought.
Antetokounmpo and Middleton are the Bucks’ veteran leaders who experienced the disappointment of falling short in the postseason the last two years.
“Honestly, it’s been a long journey, but it’s been a great journey,” Middleton said. “It’s worth it.”
The Bucks led only 47-43 following a sloppy first half before Middleton took over to open the second half Saturday. He scored the first 13 points following halftime, including two 3-pointers, stretching the lead to 60-43. Following a basket by Atlanta’s Trae Young, Middleton answered with another 3.
Middleton said he was motivated to “Stay in the moment. Don’t think about the situation. Don’t think about what game it is. Just stay in the moment.”
It was the leadership the Bucks needed to reach the finals without their biggest star.
“It just shows the guts of our team,” said P.J. Tucker.
The players wore NBA Finals caps following the game but no champagne flowed in their locker room.
“Nope,” Tucker said before explaining: “We ain’t did nothing yet.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.